Julia A. Stern

in Mary Chesnut's Civil War Epic

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print January 2010 | ISBN: 9780226773285
Published online February 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226773315 | DOI:

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Mary Chesnut's work remains unique to both slave narratives and master's accounts of slaveholding from the mid-nineteenth century; she alone seems to want to get inside the minds of her slaves, to know what they are thinking, to attempt to understand their actions. Though her initial desire for this kind of psychological migration may have been defensive—the better to know what the slaves are planning so as to remain on guard—at some point her reasons shifted. The fully developed character studies of Laurence, Molly, and Ellen, which are absent from the 1860s diary jottings, afford her 1880s narrative its psychological realism and her politics a humanity that many other former mistresses never revealed, moving her closer to the action of profound sympathy described by Adam Smith in The Theory of Moral Sentiments.

Keywords: slave narrative; slaveholding; Mary Chesnut; psychological migration; psychological realism; humanity

Chapter.  9182 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Literary Studies (19th Century)

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